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Thursday, December 01, 2016

Maximum Fun

One of the claims of biblical Christianity is the perspecuity of Scripture. Ironic, since "perspecuity" is unclear to most of us today, but means "clear", but is not. Okay, moving on, here's the idea. We believe that God's Word is sufficiently clear as to be able to be understood by the ordinary reader. At least, that's the position. It only takes a moment, a single Jen Hatmaker, to assure us that Christ-followers routinely read the Scriptures and come to different conclusions without unanimity in interpretation. So that whole "perspecuity" thing is right out, right? Good! Because that's a tough word.

No, it's not right out. The Bible says about the Bible, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." (2 Tim 3:16-17) Paul also tells the same guy, Timothy, "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth." (2 Tim 2:15) That is, "the word of truth" can be handled rightly or incorrectly. It takes work, diligence, effort, and, of course, the Holy Spirit sent to lead His own to all truth.

Yet, the Bible has fallen largely into disfavor these days. It once held the respect of unbelievers in America, even if they disagreed with its key points. They denied its truth, but found a lot of wisdom in it. Nowadays, however, self-styled Christians find it questionable at best. We know today, for instance, that the Bible is not clear on homosexual behavior (according to the Jen Hatmakers and Matthew Vines of this world and in direct opposition to the entire history of biblical interpretation prior to the 20th century). American Christians seem to be biblical illiterates. A reported 88% of Americans say they own a Bible and the average household has 4.4 Bibles, but so very few -- even Christians -- are being diligent about reading it or "rightly handling the word of truth".

A.W. Tozer chalks this up to youth ministry in the '60s. Okay, an oversimplification, perhaps, but he has a point. Back in 1963 he was complaining about how youth ministries were aiming more toward entertainment than teaching. He said that the common practice was to maximize entertainment and minimize serious instruction. This was followed by youth who became ministers and have geared all of church toward amusement rather than depth. Sermons must be fun. Worship must be light. Tozer says that even church architecture tends toward housing "the golden calf" rather than worshiping the Creator. "But we are winning them," his detractors assured him. "Winning them ... to what?" he asked. Not to true discipleship. Not to "take up your cross and follow Me." Not to separation from the world. Not to self-denial or discipline. Not, as it turns out, to biblical Christianity -- a following of Christ. Of course, that's just Tozer. Still, the fact is that church attendance and church membership is down along with biblical literacy and biblical Christianity.

Then there's this. A recent study says, "Churches that are theologically conservative with beliefs based on a literal interpretation of the Bible grow faster than those with a liberal orientation."
Among the key findings are:
- Only 50% of clergy from declining churches agreed it was “very important to encourage non-Christians to become Christians”, compared to 100% of clergy from growing churches.
- 71% of clergy from growing churches read the Bible daily compared with 19% from declining churches.
- 46% of people attending growing churches read the Bible once a week compared with 26% from declining churches.
- 93% of clergy and 83% of worshippers from growing churches agreed with the statement “Jesus rose from the dead with a real flesh-and-blood body leaving behind an empty tomb”. This compared with 67% of worshippers and 56% of clergy from declining churches.
- 100% of clergy and 90% of worshippers agreed that “God performs miracles in answer to prayers”, compared with 80% of worshippers and 44% of clergy from declining churches.
Another interesting thing. They reported that "about two-thirds of congregations at growing churches were under the age of 60, whereas two-thirds of congregations at declining churches were over 60." Wait, that's wrong, right? Conservative, growing congregations had younger people while declining, liberal congregations were older? Strange.

So, what will it be? Maximum fun or biblical Christianity? Entertain them or teach them the deep truths of God's Word? Where do we go from here?


Danny Wright said...

"They reported that "about two-thirds of congregations at growing churches were under the age of 60, whereas two-thirds of congregations at declining churches were over 60."

Very interesting. There are those, I suppose, who would see this as a reason to make their churches more appealing to a younger generation in order to pull them in and cause growth. And for all I know, they would have a point.

But it would seem to me that that would be the tail wagging the dog, like the person who tries to be moral in order to become a Christian. I'm guessing however that perhaps there's more to this than meets the eye, perhaps with underlying dynamics like, young people don't like to go to a Church full of gray-hairs, even if those old fogies are> rocking like Mick Jagger to "Jesus loves me yea, yea yea".

Stan said...

Well, now, keep in mind that the "growing churches" that included the 2/3 with age under 60 were churches teaching theologically conservative beliefs. That is, they weren't catering to the young. Rather, there is a segment of "young" that finds they prefer conservative over liberal teaching. A win-win -- theologically conservative AND young.

Josh said...

Theologically conservative doesn't mean not entertaining. The Church I attend is what I believe you would refer to as conservative. At least on the issues that seem to be in question in this post (ie Homosexuality). They also try to cater to non-believers with contemporary worship style, lack of liturgy, fancy lighting...etc. What is your feelings on a conservative teaching church, adjusting its style (not it's message) to attract non-Christians

David said...

I would imagine the young church members in the growing churches aren't there to avoid the older folk, buy because they see that Mick Jagger style of "worship" music and the style of the "teaching" in those churches is milk compared to the meat taught by the growing churches. They realize that milk isn't sufficient for continued growth and seek out meat.

Stan said...

Josh, I believe that Scripture teaches that the primary function of the church is to build believers (Eph 4:11-16). I am sure there will be unbelievers in church. I don't even see a problem with inviting them on Sunday X or something like it. But "church" refers to "the called out ones" and is intended to be the gathering of believers. When we try to aim our worship toward unbelievers whom the Scripture says are hostile to God (Rom 8:7), it seems counterproductive and, in my view, completely misses the point, since the audience in a church service is not the people in the pews (chairs, whatever). It is GOD. Believers are the performers and those people up front are prompters. Lack of liturgy, fancy lighting, and a cool Mick Jagger (using Danny's term) jam is aimed at entertaining perhaps or even making people feel a certain way, but Scripture says we are to be "teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God." (Col 3:16) I don't think that's what they're doing when they aim their music at non-Christians. But, hey, that's just me.

Stan said...

(To be clear, I do not see style -- fancy lighting, contemporary music, even liturgy or the lack thereof -- as fundamentally good or bad. I think a lot of disputes have been made over style. I am only concerned that, whatever the style, we retain our focus on God first and building believers second, not on entertaining or the like.)

Josh said...

"Only 50% of clergy from declining churches agreed it was “very important to encourage non-Christians to become Christians”, compared to 100% of clergy from growing churches."

Just to be clear, you would argue this is meant to be done primarily outside of the weekend service? Is there a way for a church to "build believers," and evangelize, all in our weekend services? Is there other ways to "build believers," other than in our weekend services. All practical questions I am wrestling with, as I believe we are to be outwardly focused Churches. Not sure exactly what that entails.

Stan said...

I would argue that Christians, not just pastors, are to "make disciples". Churches should be preparing and assisting Christians to do so as part of their building up of believers. So, yes, primarily that would occur all week rather than on Sundays. But it would not be "inward focused"; it would be preparing believers to go out.

It should be noted, however, that I said before and repeat now that unbelievers will be present. We know that. Scripture says so. I'm just talking about the focus of the worship.

Something I haven't understood for a long time. If we're aiming our services on Sunday to make converts, when, exactly, are we planning to, you know, worship God and teach believers? I mean, clearly, the message you give to unbelievers (primarily the Gospel) is not the same message that you give believers, while, on the other hand, unbelievers don't actually worship God, so the music, etc., would be aimed at something else if unbelievers are the primary focus. So ... when does God get His attention? Just musing about it, I suppose.